Friday, September 9, 2022

The Problem with Endless Research


For the past week or so, I have been working on several research projects. I am also a student, plus I work part-time, so I am having to spread my work across days or even weeks. I have been reading commentaries, comparing Bible translations, listening to sermons, reading websites, reading scholarly essays, doing a lot of prayer, and doing a lot of thinking. In my research process, I find all sorts of new information, ideas, perspectives, and criticisms of whatever I am researching. I have also noticed several issues that seem to work their way into one’s mind as he constantly researches a specific topic. These issues have bothered me, but they have also caused me to step back and assess the way I conduct research. Here are some of the most common things I see when I am researching topics that I am writing about:


When I was in highschool, I remember becoming very interested in politics. I eventually went on to study Political Science for two years, but that is another subject, for another day. When I first began reading about politics, I remember what the late Andrew Breitbart said about the way people question everything. He explained the way that people endlessly question things was popularized by the teachings of Saul Alinsky. In Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, he explains that one of the ways to tear about an idea that is contrary to yours is to question the opposing idea, then question it again, question it some more, and keep questioning it until the idea is left in shambles. The endless questioning of ideas will inevitably lead to the ideas being destroyed, without any progress having been made.

I mention Alinsky’s tactic of endless questioning because I have noticed his tactic being used in Biblical discussions. This issue is especially common amongst Bible scholars. For example, I have been reading a bit of Douglas Moo’s commentary about the book of Romans (part of The New International Commentary on the New Testament), and I have been enjoying it a lot, but I have noticed how the endless questioning hijacks parts of the commentary. Moo is not at fault here. Moo is responding to the seemingly endless theories about the origin of Romans, the legitimacy of Paul’s authorship, when it was written, to whom it was written, whether this verse was added or that verse was added, whether we are reading recreations of the original text of Romans, and so on. 

“Did Paul write one letter to the Romans, or did he write two?”

“Were there originally 16 chapters in Romans?”

“How do we know that Paul actually wrote the book of Romans?” (Yes, people ask this question.)

“Why does the ending of Romans seem different from the rest of the book?”

It is in situations like this that I really have to commend Dr. Moo for his excellent research and ability to reason. I also thank God for creating such smart men and women to help people like me understand the more complex aspects of His Word.

This issue is not exclusive to the book of Romans. I own an ESV study Bible, which is an excellent resource for my Bible study (makes sense), as well as for my writing. Each book of the Bible has a short explanation about who wrote it, when it was written, where it was found, and other bits of information that aid the reader in understanding the meaning of the text. These explanations are excellent, but they suffer from the same issue that I mentioned previously: people question everything. Did you know that people doubt that Daniel wrote the book of Daniel? I did not know that, and I wish I had not learned of such a theory. I will end my explanation of this point by sharing a verse that I use when trying to interpret the meaning of a Bible passage:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. [1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV]

If an interpretation of a passage requires a bunch of extra-Biblical ideas, research, and assumptions, it is safe to say that said interpretation is incorrect. Yes, the aforementioned verse has a meaning that is specific to the context of 1 Corinthians 14 (regarding the way to deal with spiritual gifts in the church), but it is also a statement about God in general. Another verse that helps me in studying the Bible is 2 Timothy 2:23:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. [ESV]

In conclusion, as people become more experienced in studying the Bible, there is a tendency to delve into stupid discussions that serve no function other than wasting the time of others, making oneself look more educated, and killing interesting conversations. I know that I ramble, I know that I write a lot, and I know that I often go into tangential subjects, but I do so only when it makes sense to me, when I find it interesting, and when I think others may find it interesting. I know that the human mind is only capable of remembering so much, so I do my best not to waste what limited space my mind, and the mind of the reader, has.


There is a phenomenon amongst scholars of the Bible, where, after reading too much, people become Reformed Christians. In other words, people read so much that they become Calvinists, where people are no longer capable of seeking God without His revelation, people are not able to resist the Gospel, and people cannot lose their salvation. What happened to God sending His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life? Calvinism happened, and it opposes the grace that we have received through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in favor of a more “educated” view of the Gospel, where people are saved only when God feels like they should be saved, and where Jesus died only for those whom God chooses to save, rather than dying for the sins of the world. Reformed Christianity is not just unbiblical, it is incredibly depressing, and it turns the loving God we have into a God that punishes us for things we have no control over (those who are born into sin, but are not of “the elect”), a God that sent His Son to die for certain people but not for others, and a God that withholds the gift of salvation from certain people. The act of accepting the gift of salvation becomes a “work”, those who have shown the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives, but have turned away later in life, are viewed as never being saved at all, and if one is not included in “the elect”, he can never have the ability to receive salvation. Does that sound like the God that we read about in the Bible?


I would like to mention something that I noticed in my time studying politics, since this issue appears in scholarly discussion of the Bible. Take an issue, such as immigration, where there are many different positions that one could take, and there are many studies and statistics that one could use to support his position. However, as one becomes more reliant upon statistics, it becomes easy to forget that the discussion is about more than immigration, it is about immigrants, who are all human beings, created in God’s Image. In the same way that studying can lead to people becoming calloused when discussing political issues, when people spend their life studying a handful of topics (that have to do with the Bible), there is a chance of losing sight of the grace and love of our Savior Jesus Christ, with one’s focus being drawn away by statistics, historical analysis, and endless argumentation with other brothers and sisters in Christ. What is the point of Christianity? Is Christianity a glorified historical subject, or is it about faith in Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins, was resurrected three days later, and the gift of salvation that He gives to all who believe in Him?


As Paul explains, knowledge “puffs up”, but love “builds up”. The more we know, the more we must worry about becoming arrogant. I have been praying that God keeps me humble, that He protects me from the arrogance that comes with knowing more than some people do, and for Him to guide me in how to make use of what I learn. I do not believe that I have an issue with arrogance (I am not bragging, I am being honest), but I know that I could have an issue without realizing it, and I know that, just because I do not have a certain issue right now, does not mean I cannot struggle with said issue in the future. As one grows in his understanding of anything, his view of himself becomes greater, and his arrogance is made worse.

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